Churchill, Thatcher ... and Lowe

How would some of the most celebrated politicians of the past fare if they were subjected to a Staite Report? Horace Camp suspects that Mary Lowe would find herself in esteemed company...


THERE are two politicians I compare all others with: Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher.

I recently read a transcript of a speech given decades ago by a university professor, Eliot Cohen, which contained this statement: ‘Many of the field marshals and admirals of World War II came away nursing the bruises that inevitably came their way in dealing with Churchill. They deplored his excessive interest in what struck them as properly military detail; they feared his imagination and its restless probing for new courses of action. But perhaps they resented most of all his certainty of their fallibility.’

And Maggie once received this memo, written by the head of her policy unit Sir John Hoskyns: ‘You lack management competence ... Your own leadership style is wrong. You break every rule of good man-management. You bully your weaker colleagues.’

Both of these quotes popped into my head as I was reading the damning Governance Report on Home Affairs authored by Professor Staite. Why? Because both statements could be applied to Mary Lowe according to the Staite Report.

I expect, just as few of us can remember many of Churchill’s field marshals and generals and no one has even heard of Sir John Hoskyns, that Mary Lowe’s memory will linger longer in this island than Professor Staite’s. And her contribution of decades of service to our community merits just that.

Clearly Professor Staite would have had a real problem with Churchill and Thatcher and what a shame she wasn’t around to put them on the right track and force them to adopt good governance practices.

I think you may have guessed just what I think about the report. However, applying the principles of good governance – I must declare that I have observed in my own industry of finance – that the over-zealous application of governance can lead to hours of time recording everything ‘properly’ and ticking every box, literally, else the regulator will come down on you like a ton of bricks. The ‘if it isn’t written down it never happened’ mantra is recited at every board meeting and at least two-thirds of every meeting is talking about and recording governance issues. However, we sometimes have five or 10 minutes left to discuss the business of the company so it isn’t all bad.

Don’t get me wrong, I embrace good governance and am an actual stickler for it if it is reasonable. In fact, if this poacher ever turned gamekeeper I would wager that there isn’t a company on this island where I couldn’t find some governance breach or other, no matter how trivial.

Anyway, back to the report in hand. The first thing I notice is that everything the public servants said when interviewed is taken as gospel, while everything the committee said is taken with a pinch of salt.

The second thing I noticed was that pint-sized Mary had the men in charge of our uniformed services quaking at the knees whenever they were in her presence. And on one occasion she must almost have brought one near to tears by commenting ‘rubbish!’ during one of his presentations. I assume she should have waited until the end, then raised her hand and been given permission to speak before saying ‘rubbish’, even though the context would have been lost?

Old hand at politics Mary, possibly too aged to change her ways, was also, it seems, a bad influence on the newbie deputies on her committee. She was teaching them her bad ways and in their youthful ignorance (how old is Deputy Graham?) they accepted her ways as the norm and embraced the Dark Side of the Force.

I wonder why they didn’t realise the error of their ways when observing the heads of the other committees they sit on.

Deputy Graham has the benefit of observing Saint Matt Fallaize, the Yoda of Governance, on the Education Committee yet fails to see that Darth Mary is manipulating his simple mind.

In fact, so much so that he has resigned, as has Deputy Prow, to fight her and their cause from outside the committee where they will not be so bound by governance and conduct rules designed to keep them quiet.

Going back to the Mother of the House, who has had the support of a large number of Vale voters, and for one election island-wide support, for many years, we must accept that she is a Marmite politician not universally admired by her colleagues. She has been a woman in an Assembly mostly of men for decades. And she has acquitted herself well. Like Maggie, she has had to be robust in getting her message across. What you see is what you get and she isn’t afraid to say what needs to be said.

Unlike other committee heads, she has some pretty tough characters running the services her committee is mandated to oversee. And people who, like the centurion in the Bible, can describe their jobs as ‘For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh’ (Matthew 8-9, but only Deputy Le Tocq will know that).

How does a politician ensure such folk used to being obeyed take political interference?

That only leaves Professor Staite’s comparison between the English Way and the Guernsey Way.

Shock horror, English expert prefers the English Way. I never saw that one coming. I wonder how many in England have direct contact with the Prime Minister in the supermarket or in Smith Street?

Seemingly it’s a bad thing and really it would be better if all our deputies wore noise-cancelling earphones when out because it’s wrong for them to listen to Mrs Le Page from Torteval’s problem and then pass it on to the HoLE at the next meeting. It certainly doesn’t happen like that in London.

HoLE by the way is Head of Law Enforcement.

I don’t know how good or bad Home Affairs has been this term and this report just isn’t credible in my mind as a way of informing me. And using my measure of a good politician, this report only tells me that Deputy Mary Lowe is in many ways similar to Churchill and Thatcher.

I was going to focus on individual points in the report but it just doesn’t merit it.

Unfortunately for the five deputies, and I think for the Guernsey Way, many will take it seriously and we will be the worse for it.

I’m grateful we have a system where such things can be argued in the Assembly and I pray that some of the more pragmatic deputies will get behind Mary and her team.

I’m pretty certain that if Home had focused on a knife crime policy to end the scourge of knives on our streets and bundled it with a good alliterative catchphrase like Collaboration of Commitment they would have passed with flying colours.

I’m giving this report an F and applying a ‘Could do better’ sticker to it.

And as to the Home Five, I wish them well in their fight for the truth.

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